Donald Trump doesn’t like to fire people. He does, however, like to torture his staff to the greatest extent possible, pitting them against each other for his approval and, when he has become displeased with them, repeatedly humiliating them with the apparent goal of either entertaining himself or finally obliging them to resign.
News reports paint the raging narcissist as irritated that his public criticisms of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, haven’t been enough to get Sessions to resign. He’s reportedly been pondering whether he could replace him with Rudy 9/11 Giuliani, apparently as part of Trump’s ongoing effort to surround himself only with the most sycophantic of sycophants.
But it’s his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who’s currently bearing the brunt of Trump’s wrath. Jonathan Swan writes:
• President Trump knew that appointing Anthony Scaramucci as communications director would humiliate Reince, who fought hard against it.
• Scaramucci was smuggled into the meeting with the President on Thursday so Reince wouldn’t know about it. Trump had already taken pains to hide the discussions from his Chief of Staff, knowing Reince would try to foil the move.
• Trump also knew that inserting a line in the press release saying Scaramucci would report directly to the President — doing an end-run around Reince — was perhaps an unendurable public humiliation.
Swan presents this as a question: What would it take for Priebus to finally resign? At this point, that’s not the right question.
While Sean Spicer finally decided he’d had enough only after months of being dismissed, humiliated, second-guessed, demoted in all but title, and at the end being given a new boss who is so transparently unsuited for the role that only a man as incompetent as Donald Trump could possibly have thought otherwise, Priebus is different. Priebus is not there to further the career of Reince Priebus, and he’s certainly not there because he admires or even respects Donald Trump.
Reince Priebus was the head of the Republican National Committee up until he joined the White House staff. Reince Priebus is, more than any other person in the Trump White House, committed to the Republican Party as an institution.
Let’s be blunt: Reince Priebus, from the very beginning, tasked himself with being Donald’s Republican Party handler.
Mind you, in having an attachment to the long-term interests of the party itself, Priebus is almost entirely alone in the White House. Steve Bannon is bluntly committed to his own ideology of burn-it-down conservatism, a conservatism that is at odds with the rest of the party more often than it is not. Sean Spicer’s entire job was to fluff Donald Trump, the man, even if the decaying credibility of White House statements came at the expense of the party or of Republican lawmakers—and you will find no other administration sycophants who have not similarly dedicated themselves to that task. From Kushner to Conway to Trump’s personal lawyers, everyone in the White House is there to serve either Donald Trump, the person, or their own radical, anti-Republican or Republican-indifferent notions of “alt-rightism.”
And not a one of those other people has the experience or, perhaps, even the basic competence to carry out White House duties without a Washington-entrenched party hack like Reince Priebus there to offer gentle advice on which of their initiatives would or would not end in total chaos, based on his own experience with and connections with the party.
More than any other person in the Trump White House, Reince Priebus’ primary day-to-day goal is not merely to make Donald Trump feel good or to shove forth some new, radical notions of government reformation that almost exclusively revolve around lopping off large sections of every government agency and seeing what happens next, but to keep the entire administration, and therefore the reputation of his entire Republican Party, from going down in history book-worthy flames.
It’s a tough gig, mostly because he’s almost entirely alone in that goal. Nobody surrounding him gives a damn about the reputation of Republicanism two or four years from now; nobody surrounding him is contemplating what the post-Trump repercussions of gutting the government, its regulations, its principles, its ethical bounds, and the rest of it might be because they are ideologically committed to simply doing it and letting the pieces sort themselves out as they may. The mess, and there will be a mess, will be cleaned up by Republican functionaries like Reince Priebus.
Reince is going to stick this out with everything he’s got. He will accept every humiliation; he will accept being surrounded by as many toadies as Trump, in his constant fits of pique, brings on. Reince could be tasked with driving Jarad Kushner to his appointments and he’d still do it, if it meant being able to still keep an eye on the trash fire in the Oval Office.
Until, of course, the day comes when he can’t. Everyone has a breaking point, after all. But Reince likely sees himself as the only man keeping the Trump administration from total and otherwise-inevitable collapse. H alone has a motivation that a Sean Spicer or a Rex Tillerson or even a Jeff Sessions just doesn’t have.